"The Social Network," the acclaimed drama about how Harvard computer nerds created the social networking site Facebook, had been the front-runner during the awards season, winning countless critics honors, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics awards as well as the Golden Globe for dramatic film.
British period piece about George VI's struggle to overcome his stutter before being crowned king of England, began to pick up steam, winning the Producers Guild of America Award, the Directors Guild of America Award for Tom Hooper, the top Screen Actors Guild Award and the BAFTA for best film.
A win for either one, however, is far from certain. With 10 best picture nominations to choose from, there could be a twist: Perhaps the blockbuster "Toy Story 3" (also nominated in the animated feature film category) or the Coen brothers' revisionist Western, "True Grit," could sneak in and snatch the big prize.
After a 90-minute red carpet special on ABC that begins at 4 p.m., the ceremony begins at 5:30 p.m. live on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre. And for the first time in years, the hosting duties will not be handled by a comedian such as Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Billy Crystal or Steve Martin. In an effort to lure younger audiences to the telecast, the academy has chosen James Franco, nominated for lead actor for "127 Hours," and Anne Hathaway, who was nominated two years ago for lead actress for "Rachel Getting Married," to host.
Besides best picture, there are several other dramatic story lines to watch, including that of director. David Fincher of "The Social Network" has won the lion's share of awards in this category. Though he lost the DGA honor to Hooper, he did earn the BAFTA as director. Remember that the DGA award is one of the most reliable bellwethers in predicting Oscar gold, but it's not a lock: The DGA and the academy differed twice in the directing choices in the last decade.
For lead actor, Colin Firth is considered the odds-on favorite for his poignant performance of King George VI in "The King's Speech." The British actor has won countless critics awards as well as a BAFTA, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and SAG. His nearest competition is Jesse Eisenberg for "The Social Network."
On the lead actress side, Natalie Portman could dance away with her first actress Academy Award for her performance of the unbalanced prima ballerina in "Black Swan." She won the BAFTA, Golden Globe for dramatic actress and SAG award for her performance. Besides, she's also pregnant, which seemed to be a good luck charm for Eva Marie Saint ("On the Waterfront"), Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener") and Meryl Streep ("Sophie's Choice"). All three were also pregnant when they won their Academy Awards.
But her thunder could be stolen by Annette Bening, who won the Golden Globe for actress in a comedy or musical for "The Kids Are All Right," as one-half of a lesbian couple. Bening has been nominated three times before for the Academy Award and has yet to win.
Melissa Leo is considered the favorite in the supporting actress race for "The Fighter," having won the SAG and Golden Globe for her performance as the feisty mother/manager of a struggling boxer. But Helena Bonham-Carter, who won the BAFTA, is someone to watch in this race for her role as Queen Elizabeth in "The King's Speech." And don't count out 14-year-old Hailee Steinfeld, who gives a star-making performance in "True Grit." The academy has loved to give supporting actress Oscars to young nominees, including Patty Duke, Tatum O'Neal and Anna Paquin.
On the supporting actor front, Christian Bale is considered the front-runner for his performance of a drug-addicted former boxer in "The Fighter," having won several honors, including the Golden Globe and SAG. But don't forget Geoffrey Rush, who recently won the BAFTA for his portrayal of King George's eccentric but effective speech therapist in "The King's Speech."